The HP FCPA Settlement

Last week the Department of Justice (DOJ) and Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) jointly announced the conclusion of a Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) enforcement action against Hewlett-Packard Company (HP). In the settlement, HP agreed to pay $108MM in fines, penalties and disgorgements for criminal and civil acts. To say that it was one of the more perplexing FCPA settlements would seem to be an understatement. While some will read the settlement documents and see conduct which did not merit such a high total amount of fines and penalties, I am not from that camp.

The tale of this sordid affair of bribery and corruption occurred over 3 continents with multiple countries involved, evidencing an entire breakdown in company internal controls and a complete lack of a culture of compliance. Yet the settlement documents make great pains to emphasize that few employees were actually involved in the nefarious conduct. How bad was the conduct? Think right up there with BizJet because we had bags of cash delivered to a Polish government official. (But unlike BizJet, the Board of Directors did not approve the bribery scheme and it was not taken across the border.) For the Russian deal, it was shopped through several countries with multiple levels of company review, which did not seem to work or care much about anything except getting the deal done. For Mexico, they just seemed to get a free pass where the contract description for the agent who paid the bribe was “influencer fee”.

Finally, as most readers might remember, HP did not self-report this misconduct to the DOJ or SEC. Apparently, the story of HP’s bribery by its German subsidiary to gain a contract in Russia was broken by the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) article in April 15, 2010. The next day, the DOJ and SEC announced they were investigating the allegations of bribery ...

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